Renée Tirado

After some fairly public issues, Gucci is paying closer attention to diversity, equity and inclusion.

This summer Gucci hired Renée E. Tirado as its first global head, diversity, equity and inclusion. In a conversation with James Fallon, editorial director of WWD, Tirado spoke about some of the key initiatives the company has instituted over the years to foster workplace diversity for the LGBTQ community.

Gucci has a huge population of LGBTQ employees, many of whom are in senior leadership. The company is part of the U.N. LGBTQ Business Conduct Standards, which it signed early on making sure it’s insuring equity in the workplace for its LGBTQ employees. Gucci has also taken a bigger role publicly around activism on a global level, said Tirado.

“We have a very aggressive policy with regard to our employment and hiring, and try to be very inclusive in our practices,” she said. She noted that Gucci makes sure all its employee contracts are equitable and that same-sex couples get all the same benefits as any other couple would get.

Gucci recently hosted an event to make sure it’s being respectful of LGBTQ clients. “It’s a big part of everything that we do on a daily basis,” said Tirado. “It’s not a callout necessarily, it’s just about making sure the culture is safe and welcoming at all times, and quite frankly, I think we’re doing a very, very good job at it.”

Asked how she communicates this with the outside world, she said many of these DE&I initiatives predate her hiring. In 2013, Gucci was at the forefront of the gender equity conversation, Chime for Change around women and female empowerment. “We’re not looking to actually publicize it. We’re not looking to make a big splash. Everything that we do around this agenda is through showing and doing, versus patting ourselves on the back.”

Gucci started with Chime for Change, and with her role, it’s brought in the Changemakers Agenda, where it has invested over $1.5 million toward scholarships and nonprofit organizations “looking to serve and support underrepresented populations, including the LGBT community,” said Tirado.

She noted that Marco Bizzarri, Gucci’s president and chief executive officer, has been very aggressive in investing in these initiatives, as has Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative director. “His whole platform has been about self-expression, and allowing for that to show up in different ways. From the very first show in 2015, where you saw the meshing of the gender fluidity and the genderless dressing,” she said.

Tirado believes that Gucci is probably the most diverse organization that she’s ever worked in. It is also looking into global mobility to allow its diverse workforce to have more exposure across the organization. Its Changemakers and volunteering programs allow employees to go out and be the brand ambassadors, to show up in communities and be their true selves, and bring organizations into the fold as well.

Gucci just launched a multicultural design fellowship program in Rome, with the idea that creativity is at the center of everything that Gucci does, and to infuse new design talent into the company. “We really do believe that creativity comes out of diversity and inclusion,” said Tirado. Gucci brought in more than 60 design students from 11 different countries. Eleven of them were chosen for a one-year fellowship under Alessandro’s tutelage.

Tirado, who previously worked at such organizations as Major League Baseball, AIG and the U.S. Tennis Association, was asked how the fashion industry compares to other industries in DE&I.

“There’s no one industry doing it better than any other,” she said. “Some are investing at different levels and are showing up and committing to it in different ways. I think where fashion has an advantage compared to other industries I’ve been in, is that it does value creativity and does have a significant amount of diverse representation. Because of the nature of the business, there’s an inherent agility and willingness, I think, to be open to evolution and change. There’s a different appetite and accessibility in fashion that could actually end up making it a best-in-class industry around this conversation, compared to others,” she said.

“I think fashion has a better opportunity than other places I’ve been to lead this conversation very aggressively at a really, really fast pace. It’s already built in. Compared to the other industries I’ve been in, and this is not to disparage any of them, I think the appetite is a lot more genuine here. It’s not to say there’s not work to be done. It’s clear there’s work to be done. I see a different type of enthusiasm around this, a different type of openness that I’ve not seen in other parts of my career. For me, it’s an energizing place to be. If done correctly, with the proper investment and commitment, I legitimately think fashion can actually be at the forefront of this conversation. And all these industries which are saying, ‘we can’t figure it out and we can’t find talent,’ will look at what fashion’s done and we’ll end up leading the way.”

As for what’s driving the appetite, she said, “I think part of it is the overarching climate that we’re in, not only domestically or globally. Fashion being inherently creative and about self-expression. Seeing some of that being constricted is pushing some voices in the industry to be a little more aggressive around this conversation.”

“The market is global,” she added. “In the U.S., right now 43 percent of Millennials and Gen Z consider themselves a person of color or biracial. The world is changing. That is the core group that’s leading the conversation around fashion. There’s a different impact that fashion will feel if we don’t take a stance early and be in front of it,” said Tirado.

Asked if there are recommendations she can give to fashion companies about the DE&I agenda to foster that conversation, she said, “The first thing is making sure you have the leadership buy-in. The leadership has to put a stake in it. Changemakers doesn’t happen, Chime for Change, the Tribeca Film Festival, all the things we’ve invested in, doesn’t happen without that leadership buy-in. They need to listen to their employees, and the second  thing is understanding and meeting your organization exactly where it is on the DE&I. Being mindful where they are and not trying to put in an overly aggressive agenda right away. Looking for the small wins at the beginning.” She said that can be starting an affinity network, or becoming a part of GLAAD or HRC.

“Start small and then build organically and with those wins you’ll get the credibility to grow from there,” she said. At the end of the day, it has to be tied to the business KPIs (key performance indicators). “If you’re not tying your DE&I to the business, it will lose traction and will just become a social responsibility agenda, when the priority is revenue,” she said.

A key initiative at Gucci’s parent company, Kering, is sustainability and there are key metrics to measure advancement. Tirado was asked how do you establish those metrics in something that’s cultural, without saying you want x percentage of employees to be LGBTQ. Or is that one of the metrics?

“I think there’s nothing wrong with having metrics like that. You start with diversity and you figure out how to build out the inclusion. You start with head count, you start with the supply chain, how many dollars are you investing with LGBTQ vendors? You start to track that investment. Who’s getting promoted, who’s not getting promoted? Who’s leaving and why? You look at your marketing and branding. Where is your brand showing up? Who are in your campaigns? Who is being representing in those campaigns? What is your Q rating among different demographics? These things can all be measured. I think more often than not, we just don’t want to.”

“Once you measure, there’s accountability and you have to keep progressing,” she said. “It’s really important to identify those metrics at the beginning.” The metrics start getting tied to centers of excellence. It then spreads it out beyond the diversity department. The metrics start getting tied to marketing, HR, communications strategy, the procurement group. “Everyone starts to have some skin in the game. You can’t do this on an island, or just expect to assign it to an individual or a department…that’s not what’s going to move the needle.”

The DE&I should serve as an internal consultant for the organization, she said. “Your diversity department should not be necessarily hiring LGBT employees for you, they should be serving the talent acquisition department on how to identify and source high-potential LGBT employees to bring into the organization. They will help and guide you, they will advise you the responsibility has to be on the business unit.”

As for whether one has to tread more carefully in other countries, Tirado said, “We have to be mindful. It starts with what your values are and how you’re articulating and actualizing your values on a day-to-day basis as a business. We say a lot about the freedom within the framework. Within that framework, we have the freedom to customize it locally. In the U.S., for example, race and ethnicity is still a major conversation, she said. In Canada and the U.K., it’s not going to be the same conversation where gender, parity and LGBT acknowledgement might still be a priority.”

An audience member noted that Gucci and other brands have had some things come out recently that have been somewhat offensive to people. She asked if there are new stopgaps that she’s put in place. Is there a committee, or does she look at things herself.

Earlier this year, a Gucci sweater was widely criticized for evoking blackface symbolism, and there was backlash across the social media sphere.

“Kudos to Robert Triefus, who’s the head of brands and marketing department at Gucci,” said Tirado. “It’s a fine line. There’s not a committee. He’s injected me to give another perspective, and we’ll expand that as my team grows. The biggest challenge is the fine balance between self-expression and creativity and political correctness. Once we make a decision on something, we stand by it. We’re not always going to hit the mark for everybody. But we will stay consistent to our values, storytelling and messaging.

“I think we owned it right away. I think you have to own it and learn from it. What was attractive to me about Gucci and pivoting from a different industry…we tried to course correct. They hired experts to give Italy what the impact of that mistake means. The history behind it. We need to understand why it was a challenge. So we’ll be more mindful when we go into Asia and the Middle East. It’s a very holistic approach to it. It’s not just a p.r.  statement,” said Tirado.

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